Technology Driven Markets are Equally Challenging

By Randy Senn, CIO, SCANA Corp

SCANA Corp (NYSE: SCG), based in Cayce, South Carolina, is an energy based holding company principally engaged, through subsidiaries, in electric and natural gas utility operations and other energy related businesses. The firm has a market cap of $7 billion.

The electric and gas utility sector is witnessing massive changes in its core aspects. With increased indulgence towards technological advancement, information technology has a major role to play in pipeline and plant operations along with electric grid infrastructure. The technological element aids in reducing complexity and enhancing sustainability, and further addresses the networking and cyber security requirements. The exposure to technology is a timely development, considering the need to assort huge amounts of information received through operational technology. In addition, the shift in focus towards conventional software from proprietary ones creates a demanding situation. In short, these are extraordinary times with unmatched potential for advancement at all levels for the worldwide utility sector.

Latest Trends in the Sector

As mentioned above, the technological integration is the crucial factor, which has paved way for development at all levels. Two other notable aspects are the opportunities coming up with intelligent grid and the GIS-enabled operations.

With IP connected field devices and meters, the electric and gas industries would be functioning with improved efficiency in terms of the amount of data received and set prices. And coming to the GIS integration, its purpose would be locating infrastructure out in the field and countering concerns regarding outage. The outage remains a crucial drawback, and what GIS aims is to pinpoint the causative aspects and facilitate the necessary reforms. In addition, customers would receive clarified reports on outage concerns and estimates for restoration. There are plans to incorporate GIS services into dispatching systems as well for zeroing on efficient routes to save fuel and time.

Development Paves Way for Challenges

The large-scale enhancement in the sector comes with a set of challenges. First, despite the professionals, especially IT experts being skilled at the task, their exposure to operational technology remains inadequate. There is a functional difference in their approach when compared with engineers. Therefore, the higher authorities should take initiatives to bridge the gap at the earliest by facilitating proper co-operation between the two. Cyber security issues should be at the top of all attempts. There has to be a dedicated network that derives strength from business expertise and industry-oriented approach.

Getting through the Challenges

It is all about developing a practical approach to the issues prevailing in the organization. At SCANA, the approach is purely in sync with the prevailing market conditions. Currently, as one of the two US utilities involved in construction of new nuclear plants, our priority is nuclear IT processes. The attempts are in full swing to develop a management system that would help in dealing with digital engineering drawings and sharing inventories between plants. Yet another initiative from our end is the empowering of computer systems that involves rewriting of codes to .Net., and redesigning the way responses are given at call centers. With this being implemented, call center queries would be faster and training time would be lesser.

The cyber security has always been topping our agenda, especially with respect to safety of grid and nuclear operations. In the recent past, utilities had to follow the standards in NERC CIP version 3.0. This presently has been upgraded to version 5.0.

On the Most Viable Strategies for the Future

In the near future, development with respect to integrated security operation centers would assume significance. These centers would require sorting out log data from customary security tools, information and alarms from physical security systems and data from control systems. This scenario points at the urgent reforms needed in terms of existing SIEM solutions. (As told to Benita)

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